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Ghost World (Terry Zwigoff, 2001) - Another Layer of Phoniness

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  • Ghost World (Terry Zwigoff, 2001) - Another Layer of Phoniness

    Ghost World is a film about how people relate to each other; specifically, it focuses on how Enid relates to the people around her. Everyone is shown in a way that illustrates Enid’s take on a person, highlighting their phoniness, obnoxiousness, or pathetic lifestyle. One way people communicate in the movie is via phone. The phone adds an extra layer of phoniness because a person’s true state or intentions are harder to perceive.

    There are several examples of prominent telephone usage in Ghost World. Enid and Rebecca meet Seymour because he reached out in the paper with a phone number. The fact that it was via phone hid their true identities when Enid made the call. Dana finally does end up calling Seymour, and it’s Enid who encourages Seymour to call her back after she leaves a message. Enid waits around later, with her phone sitting close to her on the bed, for Seymour to call and talk about her date (which she expects to be a failure, and therefore a source of entertainment and personal satisfaction). She then calls him, impatient waiting. When he shuts her down and tells her the date is going well (and then lies to Dana, telling him his mother was on the phone) she calls up Rebecca. Rebecca also shuts her down; we cannot know for sure whether she really plans to meet any friends, but from the way she is sitting and watching TV, it looks like Rebecca is just avoiding hanging out with Enid, and lying to her over the phone.

    In the scene where Enid’s father comes in to talk to her when she’s sad, we see the phone machine blinking constantly and yet passively in the background. And of course, towards the end of the movie, Seymour tries and tries to get in touch with Enid by calling her (on an old rotary style phone). He leaves her messages, but she does not call him back. It’s not until he goes to her house, and then Rebecca’s apartment, that he hears anything about what she might be feeling towards him whatsoever. Behind the phone and the answering machine, Enid is hiding from Seymour, which is what causes him to go out and attack Josh, getting himself hospitalized.

    There is also some telephone imagery in the film. In the beginning and end of the film, telephone wires are shown stretching across the screen. Before Enid gets onto her bus, she walks past a quiet pay phone (and doesn’t stop to place any call). We can wonder, is the director trying to imply something with all of these phone calls and imagery?

    I believe the film is trying to invoke an extended (but not unrealistic) impression that the means to communicate with people don’t make it any easier to relate to them. Rebecca says to her, “call me, okay?” when they say goodbye. Enid could call Rebecca. She could call anyone she knows, but that wouldn’t solve her problem. In fact, this form of communication has contributed to her trouble and detachment from her life and friends. Is that an accurate portrayal of the telephone? Is it a tool we can use to lie to the people we care about, or will it help us reach them?

    These questions that the film might be asking would only be expanded in looking at today’s communication system. In Ghost World, they don’t talk about email, and they still get their news from the newspaper. How many more possibilities are there for lying and phoniness now that we have texting, online “news” articles (and commenters on them), and things like facebook and twitter? Is the need for genuine behavior and legitimate friendships out of our reach? That would seem to make us a whole ghostly world full of Enids at this point, trapped rejecting everything we are given, while lacking the ability to really communicate to someone our true feelings, regardless of how many ways we are given to communicate.
    Last edited by Steven Brence; 11-17-2010, 02:03 AM. Reason: minor correction to title format

  • #2
    I agree with you on all of your points here. I think that the telephone in this film is very important, and symbolic. We see Enid relying on using the phone a lot. We also see how it portrays people as being fake or phonies. I think that the telephone was chosen with a specific purpose to the film also. We all use the telephone now a day. Everyday we pick up the phone for different things. It is a new way of a communicating, and a new way to spread fakeness. We can't see the person. We can't know if the person on the other end of the line is being 100% truthful. This leads us to believe that Enid has the same train of thought.

    I believe this is also is a stab at our world going more and more towards technology. We have less and less face time with other people because of technology. This can lead, and probably will lead to more phones and fake people. It is showing (like you said) maybe we cannot truly communicate our feelings normally without technology. Using technology we lose something that we as humans value. Which is truth, and honesty. How do we know if someone is being truthful via telephone or other technology?


    • #3
      I hadn’t considered the importance of the telephone as a medium for insincerity. It certainly doesn’t seem to be helping people ‘connect’ with each other. As you adeptly pointed out, there are many examples of the telephone being a wall that masks a person’s true identity or emotions. Calling Rebecca wouldn’t be enough to save Enid, because it still wouldn’t satisfy Enid’s desire to be genuinely connected to others. A phone call wouldn’t help Rebecca ‘see’ Enid, which is what Enid seems to need (and looks for in a relationship with Seymour, reactions of her art teacher, etc.) Other technology in the film serves as a barrier that prevents true connection between people. When Enid and her Dad are talking over breakfast, the eye of the camera is looking straight at the tv between the two. This shot was so distracting for me as a viewer, and I’m sure this is intentional. I’m still not sure what Enid and her Dad were talking about. Also, the windows at the beginning and close of the film show the telltale bluish flickering of television sets. If it holds true that technology makes it harder for us to ‘see each other’, the advent of facebook and texts gave us as individuals the capabilities to build even higher walls or distort the way others see us.


      • #4
        RHolmes gives us a couple more good examples. I had barely registered all those televisions in the film, but of course they are a part of the issue as well. TV can be another example of something that could be used for communication, but ends up being a layer of falsehood. Maybe the fact that I didn't really notice the televisions suggests that I don't see them as being out place by the this point? I did notice the TV between Enid and her father; rather than seeing it as a metaphor of distance between them, I saw it as nice detail work in the background of a typical American home. However, when placed in context with all the other media in the film, it can definitely be read as a distraction from reality.

        In response to your comment about "Enid’s desire to be genuinely connected to others," I think that's an interesting way to look at it. She never really obviously expresses that desire to be connected to people, and yet that seems to be what she's missing. Losing her connection with Rebecca must be terrible. We see them as being fairly in synch at the beginning of the film (they do hand gestures at the same time, they link arms when they walk around, and they share opinions about their surroundings) but almost as soon as their outside life begins, the connection seems to break down. Ultimately, Enid is unable to share Rebecca's seemingly genuine delight in the fold-out ironing board.

        In response to the last question (though it might have been rhetorical) posed by D. Lamp, we don't know whether or not these distanced people are being truthful. The way things are going these days, there is more and more of a push towards phones and computers to help us to "connect" with others. The video-phones that used to be an aspect of science fiction portrayals of the future are now a feature on many new phones, and almost all computers. However, those things are meant to help connect people who would otherwise not be able to communicate; they are not supposed to be a source for isolation and sadness. We can wonder, perhaps, how would Enid's life have been improved if she'd had friends around the world who she skype'd with on a regular basis? Since the film is ghost "world" she might have found nothing more out there than she was already experiencing. She might have experienced an even stronger feeling of detachment and unimportance, as I think many people do nowadays with technology constantly under our fingers and in front of our eyes.

        One thing that the film may be doing is warning us that we are becoming disconnected the more technology we submit ourselves to. If that is the case, is the film correct? Are things like Skype, iphones, and the internet today separating us further, or are they connecting the world as they are meant to do?


        • #5
          I don’t think that the film necessarily blames growing use of technology for the disconnectedness of people. I think the film is saying that people use technology to indulge or rest in their pre-existing disconnectedness. The issue the film takes seems to me to be with the people themselves. Sure, the people are made even more like ghosts by indulging in fast food culture, habitual and mindless television watching, and jobs without purposes they identify with, but they let these things almost take over. I think the film still holds the people responsible. Enid ‘s suicide is almost portrayed as martyr-like. This suggests to me that she didn’t take ‘the easy way out’. The easy way out would be Rebecca’s life path-take a job, buy stuff that you convince yourself is great, and live on your own in an apartment, having stunted relationships. It’s as if a phone call or television leaves enough room for both parties to misunderstand or partially understand each other- and when I say understand I don’t mean literally understand the words exchanged. They limit their ability or rather dismiss their obligation to ‘understand’ each other in the sense of a having a genuine knowledge or appreciation of who the person is. I think the perspective the film takes on technology is founded, but like many other aspects of the film it is exaggerated and one-sided. It is like a caricature of the real thing. It may be accurate, but it is not realistic. The film doesn’t show people who are able to use phones to truly connect with people(when Seymour attempts to do this, Enid ignores his calls), but I do think those people exist. I’ve known multiple people who use texting and phone calls to communicate, and it does not interfere with the depth and integrity of their friendships. Being in a long distance relationship forced me to stay authentic during phone calls even though I could have taken advantage of the fact that my boyfriend at the time couldn’t see my face and the distance. I also maintain a friendship via E-mail. One of my best friends is in South Korea and we write each other long thoughtful e-mails every month. I feel like we ‘know each other’ authentically, even though our mode of communication may be seen as impersonal. So I personally see two sides to technology. It’s like the force.